Take a globetrotting English engineer; have him fall for a glamorous Frenchwoman; stir well; add a second woman and a dash of glitz. That’s the recipe for this third fiction from Glendinning (Electricity, 1995, etc.), best known for her literary biographies.
The engineer is the 38-year-old Martagon. It’s an exciting time for the world (the cusp of the third millennium) and a welcome one for his cutting-edge engineering skills (glass is his specialty). He’d started out with a paternalistic firm and overseen its merger with a cutthroat competitor, inadvertently betraying his ex-employer but gaining a friend in Giles Harper, his new partner. A loner with no permanent girlfriend, Martagon finds an alternative family in the very married Giles and Amanda, along with Giles’s “frail” sister Julie, who is raising her son alone after being abandoned by her Ethiopian husband. In time, Martagon parts from the overly aggressive Giles but works for him as a consultant on a glitzy high-tech airport in Provence, where he meets the dazzling redhead Marina, who is selling the family chateau for conversion into an airport hotel. For both, this is the Big One: no-holds-barred romantic love, expressed in language unfailingly banal. The two discuss living together, choosing to ignore the cultural differences between French and Anglo-Saxon that Diane Johnson has dissected so brilliantly in her novels. Meanwhile, in attending to Marina, Martagon has overlooked a flaw in the terminal roof, setting the project back five months. He returns to London, where he unaccountably yet repeatedly beds the frail Julie. Marina finds out. As he had after the airport debacle, Martagon reproaches himself for dishonorable behavior. (“Honor” and “balance” are concepts that Glendinning parades frequently, perhaps to give ballast to the fluff.) Marina forgives him, but then he loses her outright, because of his own poor scheduling.
Time wounds all heels, they say, and Martagon does have a few bad moments, but little increase in self-knowledge. About par for this superficial man and superficial novel.